Hong Kong Ferry Day 1 – OK, we’re off! This bike adventure is finally up and running.
This morning, after saying goodbye to Susie who was off for her first day of examining, I carried my bike downstairs, unfolded it outside the hotel as arranged with Joyce, and handed the bag over to King at the Concierge’s desk. He asked where I was going, gave it some thought, and then said “Hmmm, that should be ok”. He reappeared outside as I was sorting myself out, and presented me in the traditional polite two-handed manner with a guidebook for hiking and cycling in Hong Kong. I thanked him profusely and he wished me good luck on my journey today.
- Today’s Distance (cycling & ferry): 24.7 miles
- Time in saddle/pushing bike: 2h 13
- Time on Ferries: 1h 15
- Max temp (°c): 37°
- ‘Feels Like’: 45°
- Climb (feet) : 466
- Calories used: 311
- Beaches: 1
- Beach / Cafe time:
Research is all very well, and it certainly passes the time when you’re awaiting the start of a new trip, but you have to be ready to admit it can also be a wasted effort. According to website, passenger+bicycle from Tsim Sau Tsui to Central, no problem. In reality, bikes not permitted on that route. Everyone was very helpful, and an official led me to the alternate route over to Wan Chai instead, where he told me to board by the Lower Deck. I was the only passenger.
I cycled along the waterfront from Wan Chai back to Central Ferry Piers, to mark the official start of this Challenge.
So, the Piers are arranged 1-10, running along the waterfront from west to east. My intention is to visit every pier in order, and to see where that ferry takes me. In a way I have very little say over what I’ll do each day, apart from following this plan I’ve devised for myself. At the far end of Central Piers I found Pier No1 without any difficulty – except that Pier No1 is also known as Central Government Pier and cannot be entered by an ordinary civilian in lycra like me. So with a heavy heart I had to admit failure at the first hurdle, and shuffle along sideways, head bowed, to Pier No2 (to be honest I did already know that I wouldn’t be getting anywhere from this first pier).
Things were much more promising at No2. A ferry was leaving for Park Island (or Ma Tan ), at 10.30am. The Hong Kong equivalent of an Oyster Card is called an Octopus Card, and today I realised that I really should have got one at the same time as Susie did yesterday, at Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. They can be used everywhere for all sorts of small purchases as well as speeding you through the ferry terminals. I had no change, so bought a bun with a big note, got my ticket and boarded the slick catamaran that docked exactly on time.
Ma Tan turns out to be a very curious place to begin my islands tour. Located between LanTau Island and the mainland of Kowloon, it’s a very small island that underwent an enormous transformation in the early 1990s, having previously been a pretty quiet spot. It found itself part of the immense building project for the new HK airport on neighbouring LanTau island, and the result appears at first like a kind of eccentric monstrosity, with a beach that sits directly beneath one of the new road bridges to the mainland.
I hopped on my bike and set off to follow the few roads as far as they would take me, first passing an endless row of new high-rise housing
As I reached a dead end I saw a sign for a footpath, No Cycling, so hopped off again and wheeled myself along to explore. The path entered a lush green forested area with a Heritage Centre at the entrance. I had a look inside and found the story of frenzied archeology that followed the announcement of the island’s redevelopment. Ma Tan was know to have ancient burial sites but this deadline was the inspiration needed to excavate as many as possible. They found 20 Late Neolithic sites, all with well-preserved bones and artefacts, and managed to piece together what a typical Ma Tan-dweller would have looked like around seven or eight thousand years ago (he reminds me a bit of a Hollywood actor but I can’t place a name – any suggestions?).
After this the path led to an extended wooden walkway that took me up to the top of the only peak on the island, but never felt even remotely wild, just lush, with large butterflies everywhere, lizards darting away from me as I approached, and dragonflies hovering above the trees. I did come across one very welcome surprise hiding in the undergrowth: Ma Tan was apparently the home of the earliest known Neolithic Ukulele Club in the Pearl River Basin.
How can anyone resist following brightly coloured signs that point in the direction of Noah’s Ark? I wasn’t disappointed either. Back down by the beach and nestling beneath the flyover was this strange Hotel Resort, in the shape of an enormous ark with pairs of elephants and giraffes emerging from its doors. They may well have been more creatures but I din’t pay to go inside. Instead I took my shoes off and had a first cooling paddle in the South China Sea. Not a full-blown swim on this occasion, as the sea really doesn’t look its best this close to the container ports. I watched some kids having a kayaking lesson, and thought about how every child’s summer should include at least some organised mucking about in water, then stopped for lunch and to do some writing outside at a small but busy restaurant close to the pier, where I parked up next to a fellow traveller.
Several children saw my bike and came over to ask me to fix various problems they were having: seats sliding down, bell not working etc. We set up a kind out temporary bike workshop, and they scooted off on test rides around the pier to see if I’d done a good job.
It was very sweet and they all had tiny bits of English to explain their problems. Surprisingly, almost all of them had child-sized folding bikes. Then I took the ferry back to Central and tried to be sly by folding up my bike and attempting to board the Pier 7 Star Ferry from there, to avoid the journey along to Wan Chai again. No luck – I was spotted immediately by a man in a smart uniform, waving his hands with one wagging finger raised. I turned around before he reached me and cycled back in the now intensely hot sunshine to board the deserted lower deck of the Wan Chai service once more. Again I was the only passenger and got lots of long curious looks from the mostly unoccupied crew, who were all vey helpful and friendly, waving me off with an amused smile. As I found so often crossing Canada, it’s the scruffy flagpole that does it. People can’t resist coming over to have a look, which is great.
I wheeled my bike through rush-hour commuters at the labyrinthine Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station to buy an Octopus card (and found out later that Susie also got horrendously lost there this evening returning from her day of examining), carried it back up a long staircase (there are lifts but I never found them) and then failed to find a new map at Swindon Book Co. Ltd. off Nathan Rd. My nice new one escaped somewhere on the flight here, which is a shame because it was ideal. I’ll try again at the Star Ferry Shop tomorrow morning if I remember. So sorry, no map today.
A couple of funny moments today. The first is from the beach on Ma Tan, where for one of those fleeting moments I thought I’d seen a woman hiding in a dustbin:
This next one is something you just have to imagine. A walkway through a pretty and fragrant garden, the humid air rich with the smell of the exotic flowers, palm trees waving in the breeze…PLUS hidden speakers in the bushes everywhere, playing tinkly piano music in relentlessly major keys and a fair old bit of reverb. On a loop.